Having recently moved to the Czech Republic from the UK, one of the things that I’ve had to get accustomed to are the country’s smoking laws. Used to being shoved out of the pub doors every time I fancied a cigarette with my pint, the fact that I can now sit at the bar and puff away to my heart’s content without offending anyone (at least not illegally) comes as something of a relief.

What has come as a bit of a shock to the system, however, is smoking of a different variety – marijuana. It’s everywhere. Now, I don’t know whether this says more about the kind of company I keep, but in pretty much every bar that I’ve visited since my arrival here I’ve been greeted by a haze of weed smoke. Indeed, if I had a crown for every spliff I’ve been offered in the last couple of months I’d probably have enough for a new lung.

Czech smoking culture goes hand in hand with 2009′s drug law reforms, which allow users to possess relatively small amounts of illegal substances. The decriminalization means that any user dealt with by the police will likely be charged with a misdemeanor offense, leading to no criminal record. A simple slap on the wrist.

With users being able to freely carry around and use up to 15 grams of cannabis – three times the amount that’s permitted in smokers’ paradise, the Netherlands – it’s easy to see why recent studies indicate that the Czech Republic has the highest rate of marijuana use among teens in Europe.

At 46 percent this figure is undoubtedly high, but of greater concern is the increasing flow of new synthetic drugs from neighboring Poland. The case reported by Aktualne.cz has worrying similarities with the recent mephadrone craze in the UK, which found a legal, ecstasy-like substance sold as “plant food” linked to the deaths of some young users.

As in the UK, drug manufacturers have been using loopholes in the law to create new strains of stimulants not covered by the 13-year-old law on addictive substances. A crackdown in Poland has seen many of the makers flee to the Czech Republic with reports of synthetic substances labeled as “not for human consumption” appearing in the Moravian-Silesian region.

According to Aktualne, national anti-drug coordinator Jindrich Voboril has asked ministers to prepare a change to the current laws, but there’s little case for optimism in a country where bureaucracy is still very much front and center. Cigarette, anyone?

Photography courtesy of garyowen @ Flickr

Andrew Fenwick

Andrew Fenwick is multimedia editor at Transitions Online. Email: andrew.fenwick@tol.org

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